Council moves forward with inquiry of Surland proposal to city
by Michael Langley
Dec 06, 2013 | 5239 views | 11 11 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print
There is a question on the mind of Tracy Councilman Robert Rickman: Did the city staff enter into an agreement with the Surland Cos. LLC without the knowledge or approval of the City Council?

The five-member council voted unanimously Tuesday, Dec. 3, to have the staff examine a memorandum from Surland to the city and determine whether the city implicitly agreed to any element of it without the knowledge of the council.

The memo, dated April 26, details a proposal by the development company to fund any financial shortfalls of Tracy Municipal Airport for five years in exchange for a percentage of fuel sales there and a change in the safety zone that affects Surland’s nearby Ellis development.

“When we first heard about this, it was from the public at a council meeting,” Rickman said during the council session. “We have no explanation from Mr. (Leon) Churchill (the city manager) or city staff, except that it wasn’t an agreement.”

Rickman called during the Nov. 5 council meeting for a possible third-party investigation into both the memo and Surland’s payment of a $50,000 minimum fee that airport fuel provider Turlock Air Center owed to the city. The councilman reiterated his desire for an inquiry Tuesday, wondering whether the memo would constitute an agreement between Surland and the city if any of the details of the proposal had been acted upon by city staff members.

Churchill said in an interview in his office Nov. 12 he was aware of Surland’s proposal but that it was rejected by the staff and that Surland owner Les Serpa was informed verbally by the city attorney’s office.

City attorney Daniel Sodergren said only the City Council can make agreements on behalf of Tracy.

“In this case, I don’t see a written agreement. I don’t see a written agreement that was approved by council,” Sodergren said. “So as far as using the term ‘agreement,’ I don’t believe there was an agreement in this instance, relying on the facts that I am aware of.”

On Wednesday, Dec. 4, the day after the meeting, Rickman said he needed more specific answers. “What I want to know is, when this came before the city, what did the city do? Did we meet some of the conditions? Did we not? Did we talk about it?”

Not everyone on the council was convinced the matter required external investigation. Councilman Michael Maciel debated with Rickman about whether any issue exists.

“It seems to boil down to two things that are not in dispute. One is a memorandum from Surland to the city proposing a deal. Also not in dispute is the fact that the city rejected that proposal,” Maciel said during Tuesday’s one-hour, eight-minute discussion of the agenda item. “The other document that is not in dispute is that Surland wrote a check to the city to cover Turlock Air’s financial obligation. That’s not in dispute. Whether or not the city had any involvement with that, there’s nothing to support that. If Surland and Turlock Air want to work out a deal, they can. That’s beyond the purview of the city. So what would we be investigating?”

Councilman Charles Manne said he supported a thorough discussion, but he added, “You’re going to have to help me find out what to investigate and who to investigate.”

Rickman said Wednesday that the other council members had fixated too much on the wording of the agenda item he introduced.

“When I use the term ‘investigation,’” Rickman said, “my purpose was a fact-gathering investigation.”

Rickman said he had not spoken about the matter with Churchill in the weeks since it was brought to the council’s attention Oct. 15 by Tracy lawyer Steve Nicolaou. Nicolaou procured a copy of the letter and the check through a public records request.

“This is the most frustrating thing,” Rickman said during the meeting. “It seems like people in the audience have more information than me as a council member.”

Rickman did say Wednesday that he had met with Serpa at the Surland offices Monday, Dec. 2, to get more information and told the developer his inquiry was not directed at him or his company.

Mayor Brent Ives warned council members Tuesday to consider the intentions of those who made allegations about wrongdoing by the city staff or Surland.

“When something like this comes up, I always look for the motive,” Ives said. “What is the real need for us to take the public business time to do this?”

Councilwoman Nancy Young said people with personal agendas who resort to vitriolic accusations of government corruption where none exists end up hurting Tracy residents.

“There needs to be a level of respect that’s given, because it puts all of us on defense instead of focusing on what’s best for our community,” she said.

Maciel warned about the outcome of an inquiry.

“There are things that are certain to result from an investigation. One of which, it will cost the city money,” he said. “Another of which is that if the people bringing up the complaints are not satisfied with the result, and we’ve seen a long history, they will bring into question the validity of the investigation.”

Maciel, a retired Tracy police officer, expressed one other concern.

“The other thing that will be certain is that any city staff members that are subject to this investigation will probably be damaged professionally,” he said. “I think, in some people’s minds, that is the goal.”

At the end of the discussion, the council voted unanimously to ask the city staff to produce details about what had been done in response to the Surland memo and to review those findings at an unspecified future council meeting.

• Contact Michael Ellis Langley at 830-4231 or

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December 06, 2013
I'm relieved Rickman is asking for an investigation into this matter. It's just another incident with this city's government that smacks of another alleged backroom deal.

In the above article you have your council members who are in favor of an investigation and you have your council members who, from their statements, are not. You be the judge.

All involved city government employees should be investigated and in the words of Maciel, "...any city staff members that are subject to this investigation will probably be damaged professionally”, be it.

In my opinion, if you haven't done anything wrong you shouldn't be worried about being "damaged professionally". On the other hand.............

December 06, 2013
This isn't even the tip of the iceberg. You are going only by what you read in the paper.

You are totally missing the big picture.

For starters, Rickman never showed us he was willing to vote for an external investigation. I would actually be all for an external investigation if Rickman, et all were willing to foot the bill. He maybe indicated that he would foot the bill by going to Surland, but then did not follow through.

I believe he made a mountain out of this and left the taxpayers to pick up the pieces. It seems like we are chasing shadows. What I wanted to hear was justification of the efforts and all we heard was Rickman is creating the illusion of something "criminal", or someone else is telling Rickman something "criminal", but Rickman (and to be fair nobody else knows what that word "criminal" means)?

If I'm hearing this correctly, Rickman's efforts have shifted from making Tracy safe - to - creating an excuse to continue Measure E and divert money toward a bucket with a hole.

A "criminal" hole, if we are to believe Rickman?

As of now, we the audience have listened to an hour of debates and come away feeling like we are watching the X-files. Chasing ghosts.
December 06, 2013
To Copyleft ~

I think the word "criminal" came up in a comment from the public ...was it Atty Nicolaou that first said it and Rickman's reference was to that?

So much favoritism has been given to Surland that it doesn't take much to alarm many that something could well be amiss.
December 06, 2013
You mean Dave and Mark? Steve N said he had lunch with Les and was ok with Ellis, but asked him to leave the airport alone. If it's "criminal" then where is the external investigation? I know he got this notion from comments from the audience members saying "criminal" several times. As of now, there are several accusations of "criminal" and now "favoritism" from the public comments with no criminal investigation. I would be in favor of them paying for an external investigation. There are some among us throwing out words like "criminal" and "favoritism", and the like.

Life is not always bread and circus, we need checks and balance, and I understand if it's real intentions then it's good. But it's been long enough to notice that it's not good intentions anymore. The Tracy Press pointed it out a few weeks ago.

Other people are starting to notice that some of the points made last few weeks were eye opening. In response to the "criminal" allegations it was pointed out that this happens every two weeks. The same people say the same things hoping that someone will believe them. Put your money where your mouth is and I'll believe it's real.

Heck, I'll pitch in if it resolves it for you.
December 10, 2013
Tracy's city government has always shown the "good ole boy" attitude. I personally think they're thick as thieves in protecting each other and have the idea they're like Teflon...nothing can stick to them. I believe Rickman's proposal for an investigation is spot on and will show the residents of Tracy that this city's government cannot be trusted. If this move by Rickman ruins his political career he'll be in much better company. I compare this city to the City of Reed. Like Reed, the behavior of those in power has become unquestionable until now. Rid Tracy of its present government and hope that the next will mark the return of ethics and honor.
December 06, 2013
Bottom line here is that something sounds totally fishy/suspicious now. Someone isn't using their brain!
December 06, 2013
Actually, the airport is flat broke.

They are now asking for handouts.

The only thing "criminal" at the airport went to a Stockton court to decide after someone who worked for SkyView drove his car down the runway and into the canal.

Rickman doesn't even know Tracy's most recent history?
December 06, 2013
Fundamental question, as a Tracy resident, why is it that finding out the truth hurts Tracy residents, or necessarily damages anyone professionally? If there is wrongdoing, then maybe someone needs to be damaged.

If there is wrongdoing, isn't that what hurts Tracy residents? If the developer is working behind the scenes to keep the runway short and that damages Tracy's economic expansion, doesn't that hurt Tracy residents?

If the actual situation is what Nicolau accuses, Rickman is also undertaking this at risk of his political career.

I feel that most of the council is seen here as circling the wagons to protect city staff and perhaps the developer, and Rickman wants to protect what is ultimately the best interests of the people of Tracy.

Turn against the power structure in City Hall and the developers in this town and you are as good as done.

December 06, 2013
I don't feel that Rickman turned against anything.

I feel like Rickman is like a sand blowing in the wind here.

The developer already said he paid Turlock.

I don't think Rickman actually follows through.

I don't think Rickman actually knows what he wants?

Does he?

Didn't Rickman have time to explain his position? No?

Watching it was painful. Someone said some something about someone. But why can't Rickman explain what he thinks is "criminal"?

I think it makes it look like Rickman wants to be City Manager?

If he wants an investigation, why didn't he let the investigator do the job, instead of going to Surland himself?

Once he does that he can't even vote for an external investigation.

If you ask me, it's painful watching his stunts. It looks to me like he sabotaged himself and set himself up.

Either that or his friends set him up for it and left him high to dry.

Nobody came to his defense after putting him up to it. With friends like that who needs enemies?
December 06, 2013
If the main concern is keeping the runway short (4 feet). Then no, it won't damage the city economically. The airport is losing money and was losing money when the runway was four feet longer. Turlock owed money when the Feds designated the runway 4 feet longer.

Bottom line. Four feet of runway is actually not going to make or break the airport. The airport was a gift horse of the Feds because it's a money loser. It's a poor location and the Feds don't want it because they haven't flown bi-wings out of there since WW-1.

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